Even strong women are feminized in the media and in advertising. Burton Nelson notes, "In a Sears commercial, Olympic basketball players apply lipstick, paint their toenails, rock babies, lounge in bed, and pose and dance in their underwear" (Nelson Burton 442). These are all very feminine characteristics, and women feel they must be feminine not only to fit in society but also to catch a man, and that is what the media tells women they should aspire to - catching a man. These messages begin very early, and children buy into them wholeheartedly. Children mimic the role models they see on television, and young women strive to be like the women they admire - thin, petite, beautiful, and often witless. The media celebrates all of these things by glorifying women like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. These and many other young women are role models for many young girls, and they aspire to be like them, from looking like them to wearing the clothes they wear and even shopping where they shop. Author Andre Mayer writes these new role models have actually reversed many of the gains women have made in the past few decades. He writes, "Many of them - the Britney's the Christinas, the Jessicas - dress like prostitutes, or at the very least, extras in a Van Halen video. When these chirpy, vacuous singers swept into vogues, they knocked more intelligent and progressive gals like Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette off the charts" (Mayer 285). The media celebrates feminine and attractive women, implying that any other type of woman is not acceptable, and girls learn these societal roles very quickly.
Another aspect of the media that is helping create extremely unhealthy roles for women is rap and hip hop music, which celebrates sex, violence and debasing of women, and celebrates the "pimp" lifestyle at the expense of women. Mayer continues, "Most people would agree that pimping as abhorrent, but the image has become so widespread - and in many cases, sentimentalized - that a new generation of pop culture consumers blithely embraces it" (Mayer 285). This glorifies the ultra-male male and demoralizes the female, reducing her to nothing more than a "ho," and many young women are embracing this model by dressing like the women they see in music videos and engaging in sex at ever increasing numbers, and at very young ages, as many studies have indicated.
On the other hand, the media supports the masculine "he-man" role for men, as well. The beer commercials shown during any football game help point this out. Men, (real men) are supposed to be tough, rough, and always on the lookout for women. In bars, men hang out together, shoot pool, drink beer, and eat whatever they want (they do not have to be thin to be acceptable like women do), and they never show too much emotion or sensitivity. Even the Budweiser Clydesdales, a mainstay of beer commercials, are masculine. They play football, haul around beer wagons, and are tough, which is why they appeal to male viewers. The media plays up these masculine roles just as much as they play up the feminine roles, and the two revolve around each other. Women in men's commercials are almost always trying to appeal to them, from dressing provocatively to making snacks for them to consume with their beers. The media places women in subservient, caregiving roles, while the men are always dominant, in control, and commanding. Children (and adults) see these roles, and believe they are the "right" way to behave, and so, the media and advertising helps cement the gender identity roles most people identify with and attempt to adhere to in attempt to be normal in society.
Author Steve Craig analyzes four television commercials to illustrate this gender bias and gender identifying in the media, and how advertisers choose their audience and their messages very carefully. He notes, "Daytime advertisers exploit the image of women as mothers to sell products to mothers. Likewise, during the weekend sports broadcasts, only 18% or the primary male characters where shown at home, while during the daytime ads, 40% of them were" (Craig 163). Advertisers understand their market, and they help perpetuate gender roles that viewers buy into, consciously or not. Craig continues, "Advertisers therefore portray different images to men and women in order to exploit the different deep-seated motivations and anxieties connected to gender identity" (Craig 163). A woman does not want to think she is not attractive or capable of attracting a man, and so she will buy the products that advertisers show her will be successful in generating that attraction and the same holds true for men. Think of the proverbial hair dye commercials for men. Men who look too old are seen as unattractive and outmoded, but once a man dyes his hair, he immediately begins attracting the "hot" young women. The same is true for women, with a variety of products shown successfully attracting handsome men's attention, which is what women seem to want, according to advertisers. Think of the diet commercial where a woman says, "I see the way my husband looks at me," after she has lost weight. The message is clear. If you want to keep your husband happy (read faithful), you have to be concerned with your appearance and sexual appeal above all else, and this helps cement gender roles in society today.
Of course, not all parents blatantly push their children toward certain gender roles, as Deborah Blum notes in her essay, "The Gender Blur." She writes, "But just as little girls don't routinely make weapons out of toast, women - even criminal ones - don't seem drawn to weaponry in the same way that men are. Almost twice as many male thieves and robbers use guns as their female counterparts do" (Blum 476). This is just one statistic that points to the idea that gender is at least partially related to biology. Girls do not tend to be as violent or aggressive as boys are, and they tend to be more nurturing and less violent than men are. Of course, there are exceptions, as Blum continues, "We all know that there are extraordinarily gentle men and murderous women" (Blum 477). However, biologically, there are real differences between the genders for the most part, and some of these factors seem to be predetermined and in place even before birth. Society can certainly add to those factors, and make them even more dominant, but there are biological differences between men and women, from hormones to ideas about aggression and violence, and they occur regularly. Biology is not the only form of gender identification, but it certainly is important for the development and inner workings of the gender identity issue.
Blum notes that gender awareness begins in infancy, and becomes much more noticeable as children reach between 2 and 3 years of age, and this occurs even if children grow up in less traditional families that do not push gender differences on their children. Children also begin to play according to their gender by the time they reach the age of seven or so, giving up playmates who are of the opposite gender (Blum 479-480). All of this seems to occur quite naturally and often, indicating again that biology, rather than simply societal pressures and ideals, are at work in the gender identity process. She also notes that studies are underway to see how girls who are encouraged to pursue activities and careers long associated with males react to the stress of these activities, and they are even monitoring the girls' testosterone levels. These studies may show that hormone levels change in girls as they engage in more male-oriented activities, but the results are not in yet (Blum 481). Whatever the results, it is clear that gender identity is a complex process, and that just one explanation for it cannot really tell the entire tale. Biology and society mix to create gender identity, there is no other way around the subject.
In conclusion, gender identity is really a convoluted and complex societal issue in America today. While women have come very far in their quest for equality, there are so many gender identity issues in society; they still have a very long road to travel to become totally equal with men. Women continually receive messages, from everything from advertising to their nurseries that indicate the roles they should assume in society, and the same is true for men. Society does play a large role in gender identity, and it forms the basis for gender identity for a large percentage of the population. However, there is at least some segment of the population whose gender identity is certainly related to their biological makeup. Some boys are born in "women's" bodies, and nothing society dishes out can change who they are inside. The same is true for many women, who are born into "men's" bodies. These…